World Heart Day - 29 September

World Heart Day: How to keep your heart healthy

Most of the time heart diseases are diagnosed and treated only after these occur.

World Heart Day: How to keep your heart healthy

Dr Babina N. M 

Most of the time heart diseases are diagnosed and treated only after these occur. However, the rising burden of cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, diabetes and the ensuing complications, including stroke, heart attack, heart failure, and sudden cardiac death, have led to a shift from curative to preventive care. 

According to the American Heart Association, almost 80 per cent of cardiovascular diseases, including stroke, are preventable. This underlines the utmost importance of prevention as the first line of defence against the rising epidemic of heart diseases. 

Naturopathy offers useful tools to improve the health of your heart. For people who are at a higher risk of developing heart diseases such as those having diabetes or hypertension, lifestyle modifications, along with modern medicines, can be of great help. 

A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that patients at high risk of cardiovascular diseases experienced a reduced cardiovascular risk profile over 10 years and a lower frequency of metabolic syndrome by including diet modifications, strategic use of natural health products and following health promotion advice in conjugation with modern medicine.

Lifestyle modification vs Medication

There is no denying that the use of medication like statins can be beneficial, but it is important to bear in mind that these drugs should be accompanied by lifestyle modifications and not as an excuse to absolve yourself of the responsibility for your health. In fact, what you can achieve using lifestyle modifications has no chemical substitute. Here are a few steps you can take to protect your heart naturally.

Adopt a heart-healthy diet: Avoid trans-fats as these raise the LDL or bad cholesterol levels. These are found in fried foods, baked goods, and any food item that lists “partially hydrogenated” oil in its ingredients. Include foods that are rich in poly-unsaturated and mono-unsaturated fats as these boost HDL, or good cholesterol levels and lower the risk of heart disease. Make sure to include plenty of roughage in your diet through fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, whole grains, and nuts. 

Fight chronic inflammation: Chronic inflammation is a major risk factor for a number of debilitating diseases, including heart diseases. A diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods and herbs is beneficial. This will help the body fight inflammation and the oxidative stress caused by it. Foods rich in anti-inflammatory properties include tofu, flaxseed, walnuts, celery, grapes, olive oil and spices like rosemary, ginger, and turmeric. Garlic is particularly useful in lowering bad cholesterol levels and keeping blood pressure in check. 

Lose body fat: An increase in body weight also increases the risk of plaque build-up in your arteries. Belly or visceral fat is especially dangerous. A recent study found that having a potbelly, even if you are not overweight, increases the risk of lifestyle diseases. The fat in the belly pumps out cytokines and free radicals that trigger inflammation in the body. Make sure to include whole foods in your diet and cut down on sugary and processed foods. Also detoxify the body regularly with the use of herbs such as triphala, neem and mint to prevent weight gain.

Keep a control on blood pressure: Having high blood pressure puts you at risk of stroke, heart attack, impotence, kidney disease, decreased mental capacity, and dementia. To keep the blood pressure in control, make sure your diet includes plenty of fruits and vegetables which are a rich source of calcium, potassium, and magnesium. All of these help combat the negative effects of excess sodium. It is essential to do physical exercise daily, as it promotes weight loss, and helps control blood pressure. It also stimulates the production of useful chemicals, such as nitric oxide, which helps expand blood vessels and increase the blood flow. Herbs such as basil, garlic, cardamom, celery seed, etc. help to keep blood pressure in control. 

Keep blood sugar in check: Studies have found that strokes and heart attacks are twice as prominent in diabetics compared to non-diabetics. However, healthy eating and daily exercise can improve the level of glucose in your blood, and help you shed body fat, both of which are major risk factors for heart disease. Herbs such as aloe vera, cinnamon, milk thistle, black seed, fenugreek and ginger help reduce the blood sugar levels. Similarly, the consumption of onion also helps diabetics keep their sugar under control.

Exercise without fail

Regular aerobic exercise is one of the best things you can do to improve your heart health. Make sure you practice at least 30 minutes of aerobics daily, strength-training exercises at least twice or thrice a week, and stretching exercises as and when you can. But before you do, make sure you get a tolerance test done, especially if you are at risk for a cardiac event like a stroke or a heart attack. 

Practice yoga regularly

Various researches have proved the beneficial effects of both short and long-term yoga practice. People who practice yoga on a regular basis have achieved lower heart rate, healthy blood pressure and better autonomic function. Regular practice of yoga and pranayama can help your heart stay healthy, and prevent the onset of lifestyle diseases such as hypertension and stroke, improve blood circulation and lower the risk of peripheral vascular diseases. 

— The writer is joint CMO, Jindal Naturecure Institute, Bengaluru

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